Monday, March 12, 2012

Mammoth, 1897 - An Epic Rescue

March 5, 2012 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

James Stevens (at left) in a photo taken as rescue workers and a doctor attended
to him right after he was brought to the surface at Mammoth Mine in 1897. In a truly
epic story in the history of mining, no man had ever survived for 13 days
underground in absolute darkness without any kind of assistance from above ground.

A gold miner named James Stevens, working at the Mammoth Mine in Goldfield, Arizona Territory, was buried alive on July 5, 1897. The accident occurred during the swing shift on Saturday night while Stevens was working sixty feet below the surface. The following is an excerpt from the Arizona Daily Gazette, page five, column one, July 7, 1897. (The old Mammoth Mine is located 4.5 miles northeast of Apache Junction on SR88, the Apache Trail.)

“From what can be learned the night shift had just gone on work in the Mammoth Mine, and a few of the day shift had not yet been hauled to the surface. One of the day shift, a man named Stevens, was working on the 50-foot level of the mine, when, without warning, the ground on which stood the company’s carpenter shop, sank and tons of debris fell into the 50-foot level.

“Fortunately, Stevens was working at the farther end of the drift and escaped being crushed to death. However, it is possible that a worse fate awaits him, for unless he gets relief very shortly, he will succumb to the foul air.

“The debris has effectively closed the shaft and no air can possibly reach the entombed man. Stevens has two gallons of water and several candles with him, and he can hold out for some time, unless as before stated, he dies for the want of fresh air.”

On July 13, 1897, seven days after Stevens was entombed in a cave-in, he gave indications he was still alive by tapping on a pipe that ran through the area he was entombed in. Newspaper accounts gave Stevens little chance for survival.

The papers reported the arrival of a diamond drill on July 13, which would be used in an attempt to rescue Stevens. The trapped miner and the story of his rescue capture the headlines of Arizona newspapers of the period.

Since July 5, it was reported, the miners had been working twenty-four hours a day to free Stevens, but to no avail.

The following article appeared in the Mesa Free Press on July 16, eleven days after Stevens’ was entombment.

“Whether Stevens, the entombed miner at Goldfield, be rescued alive or not, the miners who have worked night and day to save him will be commended for the efforts they have made for the rescue of their comrade.

“Miners are proverbial for the abundance of humanity that fills their hearts and leads them to risk their own lives for their fellow man in distress. No men ever worked more steadily than have the miners of Goldfield in this case, and it is yet hoped that their efforts will be crowned with success.”

On July 17, 1897, thirteen days after the tragedy began, Stevens was rescued. The rescue required the sinking of a 20-inch vertical shaft to the depth of 60 feet in solid rock. A full crew of miners worked twenty-four hours a day for thirteen days to rescue Stevens from his would-be grave.

On July 18, the headlines of the Arizona Republican read, “Stevens Is Saved a Living Skeleton.” As the rescue shaft broke through the roof of the drift Stevens called to his rescuers, “Is that you, Joe? For God’s sake, hurry! I am burning with thirst.”

Joe Megram and Dan Danielson found Stevens. These miners had been digging steady for more than ten hours. Megram reached Stevens at 7:45 a.m. and found him alive. When Stevens’ was removed from the drift he actually stood on his own feet. He told the rescue group his candles were gone after five days and he ran out of water the eleventh day.

The rescue of James Stevens at the Mammoth Mine in Goldfield on July 17, 1897, was one of the epic mining rescues in Arizona history, and actually, in world history. The story filled newspapers across Arizona and the nation. Few men in the history of mining have survived thirteen days trapped beneath the earth.